UPDATE: Brandon Dubinsky joined the Aces on the ice for the first time Monday. The former New York Ranger has signed a PTO contract with his hometown team.
ANCHORAGE – It’s off the professional ice and onto a hometown rink for three NHL pros. Scott Gomez, Nate Thompson and Joey Crabb have all made it back to their hometown this week to sign contracts with the Alaska Aces because of the National Hockey League’s player lockout, which started in mid-September.
The last time this happened was in the 2004-‘05 season, which ended up cancelled, sending professional hockey players to Europe and to their hometowns.
Friday, the trio laced up their skates and stepped on the ice with the Aces for the first day of training camp.
“As long as they are around, it’s great to have them practice and skating with us every day,” said defensemen Steve Ward. “It helps not only the young guys, but everybody. But at the end of the day those guys want to be in the NHL, that’s where they need to be.”
This is Gomez’s second time-sharing the ice with the Aces. In the ‘04-‘05 season, he signed a contract with them. Right now, Gomez and Thompson are only under Professional Tryout Contracts (PTO), but that could change if the NHL is still locked out in the beginning of October – when the season is set to start.
“Having a couple NHL guys here really amps up the intensity for everybody,” said Ward. “It’s good to see for the younger guys to see what a NHL work ethic is like.”
It’s big league intensity that could the Aces could see all season because former Dimond High athlete Joey Crabb, who is now under contract with the Washington Capitals, has just signed on with the Aces.
“Joey Crabb has shown he would really like to play during the lockout,” said head coach Rob Murray.
This lockout is the second in ten years, and Coach Murray said that means it’s the second time that fans get to see big time talent.
“I gotta believe that in the long run it will help our attendance,” said Murray.
Gomez was named ECHL Most Valuable player in his first run with the Aces and brought in, on average, 4,735 fans every home game – about 400 more than the previous year (2003-04) and 300 more than last season.
Crabb’s already on board, but Murray hopes to see Gomez and Thompson in baby blue jerseys, as well.
He said he would know where the wild cards stand in the next 10 to 12 days.
“You never know; I mean the lockout could end in the weekend or it could go for perhaps all season again, so we don't know. We don't have a crystal ball,” said Murray.
For Ward, the game will go on with or without the NHL pros.
“I think every year you want to win you know? I think the aces fans have been pretty spoiled. We always put together good teams and they expect winners.”